If they notice that you happen also to be buying vegan chocolate chips, the cashiers at Whole Foods should feel free to point out that the beer you’re buying is made with honey. And Trader Joes… don’t get me started on your liberal use of confectioner’s glaze, and the beeswax on the produce….
Lenten Vegan. Take two. Last year’s adventure in animal-free eating was a great success, so I’m trying it again.
Things are a bit different this time around. Last year, the transition was a big one. Last year I went straight from omnivore to vegan. On Fat Tuesday, 2011, I had my last Wendy’s Spicy Chicken Sandwich. The very next day I was sautéing kale, diligently tracking my protein intake, and reading about B12 supplements. I wasn’t totally clueless (I had always been mostly vegetarian when it came to cooking for myself, and I had lived with vegans before, so I wasn’t a total stranger to things like nutritional yeast and rice milk), but I had a lot to learn.
Last year’s vegan experiment meant reading a lot., and it meant paying a lot of attention to things like food labels, restaurant menus, and nutritional needs. I thought more about animals and how they live and die than I ever had before, and I found myself thinking a lot about human lives, too—and not just human health, but customs and traditions and etiquette. I thought about what food means and what it means to refuse some of it. I thought about the way food connects one life to another, from far-off farmers to the folks just across the table.
I found myself thinking about the connection between things and the systems we’re all a part of—how a feedlot impacts the environment, how in order to become a steak, one person’s cow has to use up what might have been many other people’s grain and water. I thought about the problems of scarcity (not having enough food) and the problems of abundance (eating too much of the foods that make us sick), and the ways those problems are profoundly interconnected.
Both my mind and my body changed during this time. I felt good. I was surprised to find that what I missed most wasn’t high quality juicy steaks or even cheap greasy cheeseburgers, but rather convenience. I missed being able to eat without thinking. I was surprised that, once I got the hang of it, it was easy, and could be convenient and sometimes even accomplished without thinking. I was surprised when it stopped feeling like a restriction and started feeling like a real abundance, an opening up to new possibilities. The biggest surprise by far, however, was the realization that I wouldn’t be able to go back. I never got teary-eyed looking at an image of a caged up chicken or anything, but the things I was learning convinced me that the food system I was a part of was wrong, and that it would continue to be wrong even after Lent. Midway through, I realized I would not be able to go back to eating meat. But then there’s cheese….
After Easter I became a lacto-ovo vegetarian. And not really because I wanted cheese, but because I wanted ease. I was tired of asking if there was butter in this or eggs in that. Not every restaurant can pull off a satisfying vegan entrée, but most can do a pretty tasty grilled cheese. My healthy, plant-based diet started to slip toward a fatty, cheese-based one as mindless eating took the place of mindful living. No good. And frankly, I knew better. I knew that conventionally produced egg and dairy products were terrible for animals and for the environment. I knew about the cruelty. And about the hormones and the antibiotics. And I was ignoring all of it. For grilled cheese? For the occasional omelet?
So this second time around, it might be less about learning new things and more about remembering to live in accordance with what I already know. But then again, there’s plenty more left to learn, and I know that when we start paying attention, when we start waiting mindfully, when we start clearing away the clutter that gets in the way of living the way we know we can be living, a space opens up for true surprises.
Well, I did it. 40+ days of Vegan for Lent. My diet has been healthier, more ethical, and more sustainable than it has ever been before. I feel pretty good, and the pigs feel even better.
Of course there were a few slips here and there, but I can count them on one hand. Five gaffes out of 130 meals? Not bad.
It would seem like tomorrow there should be some kind of celebratory ‘breaking of the fast.’ Some cheese, perhaps? But that sounds like such a silly idea. After everything this project has led me to learn about and think about, the idea of eating animal products just for the sake of eating them, indeed, eating animal products as some kind of celebration, strikes me as absurd, if not exceptionally cruel. If eating vegan was the right thing to do for 40 days, how would it not be the right thing to do for all the other days? And my goodness, eating dead flesh to celebrate a resurrection? Seems odd.
Remembering that a big part of my purpose with this project was to eat animal-free as a way to be mindful about food and the ways eating connects us to other lives and practices, breaking the fast would mean, in essence, making a deliberate effort to eat carelessly. That, too, sounds absurd. How does one go about making intentionally careless choices?
I’m tempted to say something like, “OK… well, going forward, I’ll just take things one meal at a time.” But that, too, is a problem. See, the only moderately compelling reason to go back to eating animals (or at least dairy) is just that it would make me a less fussy dinner companion. But which is the more difficult mouth to feed: the one that says, “I’m a vegan,” or the one that says, “Well, I’m pretty compelled by the arguments for veganism, and I prefer eating vegan when possible, but I might not refuse a bit of cheese if it comes from a really sustainable and humane source, and if there’s egg hiding in that dish, I’ll probably be ok so long as you don’t draw my attention to it….”? The first sounds principled; the second sounds annoying. (See my earlier post on why it may be easier to be inflexible.)
So we’ll see what happens. Easter is all about surprises. Really big surprises.
Makes 6 awesome cookies.
- 1/4 cup light vegan margarine
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon white sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon vanilla
- 1/3 cup whole wheat flour
- 1/8 cup water
- 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 cup old fashioned oats
- 1/8 cup chocolate chips
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- Cream together margarine and sugar in a bowl, then mix in vanilla.
- Add flour and salt, mix well.
- Mix together baking soda and water, and then add to the batter.
- Stir in the oats and chocolate chips.
- Drop by spoonfuls onto a cookie sheet (no need to grease it), and bake at 350° for 10 minutes.
A week or so ago I posted a link to a Seitan Bourguignon recipe that Martha Stewart featured on her show. The word “blasphemy” came up….
Well, I tried it anyway. It was lovely. The sauce was tasty. The crispy mushrooms were just right (I was skeptical that they’d ever crisp up, but it finally happened by the time the bourguignon was ready). The vegetables were tender and flavorful. The seitan looked a whole lot like beef (er… boeuf) by the time it was done.
Thoughts for next time: more onions, more carrots, and put more serious effort into getting a nice brown on the seitan before adding the liquid. Texture matters.
Julia would be proud.
Ok, the name is cheesy, but look at that picture. They actually glow.
I will be making these luminescent wraps from Happy Healthy Life to take for lunch tomorrow, because I have reached my bean salad saturation point. I just stumbled on the site today—looks like lots of great recipes. I started putting together the “mash” that will be the filling for these wraps, and it sounds a bit strange: hummus + maple syrup + sweet potato + vinegar… but it tastes just a little bit amazing. Hoorah!
No chickens — and no buffalos — are harmed in the making of the Vegan Buffalo Chicken Wrap at Pick Me Up Cafe. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for all those poor soybeans. Struck down in their prime, the soybeans become tofu, the tofu becomes battered and fried nuggets of yum, the nuggets of yum take a bath in a spicy sauce, and it all becomes delightful. Bring it on.
So, I’ve been writing a lot about the vegan part of being a lenten vegan, but not so much about the Lent part. Oops.
Let me just sketch out some of the ways I see eating vegan as a spiritual discipline. As time allows, I’ll write some posts that flesh out these themes. (No pun intended)
Eating vegan serves a spiritual practice insofar as it highlights:
- Mindfulness: thinking about where food come from, how it’s made, how it fuels the body…
- Simplicity: the tastiest vegan foods are the ones we tamper with the least. Vegan food is lower on the food chain. It’s simpler to produce, etc.
- Communion: it’s easy to eat vegan alone; eating vegan with others requires some negotiation. It becomes so apparent just how important table fellowship is, how much we invest in breaking bread with one another… how much we need it. How much we want to share our food with one another, even when that food is factory-raised chicken.
- Abundance: non-vegans think of veganism as giving up a lot of food. But when things are going well, vegan eating is all about discovering and delighting in a new abundance. There are so many plants. Connected to gratitude; food as gift…
- Scarcity: to the extent that eating vegan is about ‘giving something up,’ it is a reminder of the privilege and plenty we often enjoy without thinking. Vegan eating draws attention to the incredibly inefficient use of natural resources required to support meat diets; we could be feeding so many more people by using land to grow food for people, rather than using that land to feed and confine millions of diseased and miserable chickens and pigs.
- Empathy: As people, maybe the best thing we can cultivate is empathy. And maybe the best way to practice empathy is to learn to feel for beings that seem so totally unlike ourselves… beings that we always knew felt pain even back before the science could prove it.
- Nonviolence: duh.
So that’s a start…
Some people complain that vegan restaurants are a little too pleased with themselves for offering frumpy sandwiches loaded with fried seitan, wrapped in mock bacon, and covered in globs of fake cheese. Some people, in other words, have never been to The Green Zebra. Fortunately, I’m no longer one of them.
The Green Zebra does some pretty serious vegetarian cuisine, much of which is available vegan. The vegetables there look like they’re dressed up for a fancy party, and not at all like they’re dressed as McFriedblobs for Halloween. Amazing cocktails, meticulous service, swank decor, and pretty tasty food.
They do it small-plate style, so order a bunch of things.
- Baby lettuce salad with roasted squash and fig dressing? Very nice.
- Roasted shittake mushrooms wrapped in crispy potato with savoy cabbage? Yes please.
- Cannellini bean stew, with tuscan kale, cipollini, tomato broth, and herb crust. Well, I can see why the menu lists this is a vegetarian item with parmesan in the crust. The sandy breadcrumb layer that tops the vegan version could have used some help.
- Vegan chocolate ganache cupcake, for dessert? Oh goodie.
Yum. I’d do it again.
Brunch invitation. Uh oh.
Brunch is all about eggs. And bacon. And more eggs. What to do?
There was a substantial wait, but I’ve pretty much come to assume that’s what brunch means. Brunch is all about a long wait, and then eggs and bacon and more eggs. No problem. The decor is very cool - a little hip, a little homey. Almost Anthropologie-esque. There’s only one self-evidently vegan thing on the menu, called “Vegan Epiphany,” but it sounds like any of the other egg dishes can be made with tofu. Nice.
The Vegan Epiphany was really perfect. “organic tofu scrambled with red & green peppers, baby spinach, yellow onions & our own blend of spices, served with yuba and house potatoes.” Yuba? The menu helpfully explains: “savory & crispy, yuba has been a staple soyfood in asia for thousands of years. made from the cream that rises to the top of hot soymilk when making tofu.” Everything was delicious. The tofu scramble was well seasoned, the potatoes were crispy in all the right places.
Way to go, M.Henry. Yum.